Djibouti Exit and Massawa Eritrea

19-28 February 2020 Djibouti Exit and Massawa Eritrea

In the end, we never took the Djibouti tour, it was just too expensive at $400 USD. Also, the guy who was supposed to be working on our sail did nothing, so after 7 days – we took it back. Together with Steve and Liz on Liberte, Diane and Mariona made the necessary repairs. Diane used her own sewing machine as well as re-stitching a lot of the sunbrella strip on by hand. We rented an office space in the “marina” for $100 USD (for a day) and went at it.

All told, we stayed 10 days in Djibouti. Its a shame really because we ended up leaving with a bad impression. It seems there are lots of angry people shouting at each other. Its not a culture that I can appreciate. When checking in, I noticed the tidal range made challenging the wall at Customs a bit of a challenge, so I made sure to check the tides with before going back there. Since our weather window was vanishing quickly, we sailed on in the morning of 17 February, bound for Massawa Eritrea. We had strong winds for most of it, but in the last 12 hours had to motor in, and this bird sat on our whisker pole for most of it, taking a break.

Our “buddy boat” for a lot of this trip is Liberte, Australian flagged, with Steve and Liz Coleman on board. We first met them in Trinidad, about 8 years ago.

Massawa is a dirty, impoverished East African port “city”, important to the war-torn country of Eritrea. Here in a nutshell, is their history. They have been at odds with Ethiopia for hundreds of years. In the 1920’s, Italy colonized the country and made big improvements to their infrastructure and sent nearly 100,000 Italian emigrants here in the 20’s and 30’s – to settle. You can easily see the Italian influence in the roads, bridges, building architecture – and even people’s faces. In WWII, the British supported Ethiopia, defeated Eritrea and merged the two and drew inconvenient and non-sensible borders (as they did). Then, the Eritreans started to fight for their independence again, and finally in about 2000, a peace was declared and UN peacekeepers were here for a while. Eritrea has its independence, but is very low on the scale of development, even for African nations. This was our first view on arrival. It was a magnificent building at one time.

We went out for a local meal, together with Steve and Liz.

We could get some fruit and vegetables in the night market (forget about lettuce, broccoli etc, its just not in their diet) and there are a few shops or supermarkets with nearly nothing on the shelves. The night market was located on the edge of town, and people were really shy about getting their picture taken, so we had to be careful not to offend anyone.

I paid this young woman extra for the potatoes we bought from her, just so I could get her photo.

I’ve heard Eritrea described as the North Korea of Africa. Now I know why. For $50 USD per person, we got 30 day visas, and together with the correct internal travel permit (everybody needs it here) we found two good days to make a side trip to the capital city of Asmara to see the best that there is on offer. Even in the capital city, there were dozens of Internet cafes, but the odd few that were operating offered Internet at speeds equivalent to what we saw in Canada in about 1995, and can’t support any Apple apps or software. Just forget about it. Cuba is at least a generation ahead of these guys. Although they have plenty of natural resources, I don’t know how or why any Western industry would brave coming to this country to setup, its just way too risky. We had to wait until we got to Sudan to get Internet access.

The road trip up to Asmara was very interesting. The bus ride was cheap at about $3.50 USD per person, but very rough and at times nerve wracking. At an elevation of 2300m, the climate was cooler and really above the clouds. It was chilly in the evenings and you needed at least an extra shirt or sweater. Locals in Asmara rarely make the trip down to Massawa at sea level, where the temperature in July/August can reach 42-45C.

Its hard to see in this photo, but these was a swarm of locusts, huge “grasshopper like” insects flying along.

Much to my surprise, Asmara was a very clean, organized and pleasant city. Eritreans in general are very friendly and calm people, but in Asmara, there was a distinct Italian flare to everything. Cafes and bars were plentiful, and people seemed to have a very calm and tranquil lifestyle. Most Eritreans are Christian, and this was the Catholic Church in Asmara.

There was also an Italian government funded public school with some Italian staff. Although the people in Asmara suffer from drought, and our overnight stay at the African Pension was impacted, the people seem to be quite happy and carrying on. At least there is no war! We ate pizza, spaghetti, Italian deserts and gelato – and had cappuccinos. Gabriel was in heaven, it was so much like Italy. In fact, when questioned about it, he was completely unaware that this country had once been an Italian colony. Locals asked him: “why did the Italians leave?” “when are they coming back?”.

This area of Asmara is called the recycling depot. Here, we saw all kinds of goods come in and get recycled into hundreds of different products. There is a carpentry area, a metal working area, gears and springs – you name it. Obviously, this guy made his own “welding mask”.

Gabo struck up a conversation with one of the thousands of Italian descendants remaining in the city.

After a stay of 8 days, was time to move on and head North to Suakin Sudan. Again, we had a hitch-hiker, this time a hoopoe, the national bird of Israel (not a sea bird). It is from the Kingfisher family of birds.

Arrival in Djibouti

15 February 2020 Djibouti Arrival

We arrived in Djibouti on 7 February after 16 days at sea. We mostly had good wind, but had to motor for several days to “escape” India, and again in the last 24 hour run into the port of Djibouti. In total, we ran the Volvo for 120 hours and burned 570L of our 1150L carried (850L in two tanks, 300L on deck). We did not see or hear of any pirate activity. We did see a couple of fishing boats and several coalition warships, surveillance aircraft and helicopters. The pirates (those that are left) don’t have a chance here. We were contacted directly by Japanese and Indian Navies. This is an Indian warship that we spoke to.

This is their helicopter that buzzed over us to have a look.

Gabo tried hard, but in the end managed to catch just two fish, one tuna and one mahi-mahi. Nonetheless, there was often an abundance of flying fish, sometimes as many as 15-20 landing on the deck overnight – and even this one that landed inside the cockpit.

At one point, Gabo had 3 lines out and all had a strike at the same time. One fish jumped up, the line rose up over the solar panels at the stern and one wind generator and then snapped. The fish escaped and the wind generator was fouled! On the second line, there was a big mahi-mahi but it escaped just at the edge of the boat when the gaff was lowered! On the third line there was a small but tasty tuna.

The next day, Gabo got another mahi-mahi, and redeemed himself.

On a beam reach, this was our sail configuration in light winds: Code Zero and main sail. This was a “dream point of sail”, 10-12 knots of wind and less than 1 metre seas.

Once we were “in the corridor” following the International Recognized Transit Corridor (IRTC) between Yemen, Somalia and Socotra, this was our point of sail, “wing on wing” with the wind dead astern of us. Again, this was a very comfortable sail, for several days.

We had some “belt” problems when running the engine. It appears that the intense heat and humidity were hard on the Volvo belts, and I had to change both early in the trip, while underway. Initially, I tightened two sets of belts (two for the Volvo water pump and alternator, and a second pair for the 200A alternator) but then they broke after a few hours – forcing me to replace them underway. Fortunately, I had several spare pair, and managed to source even more when we arrived in Djibouti.

Gabo and Mariona demonstrate how easy it was to refuel while underway. With light winds and a very low sea state, it was possible to put a few jerry cans of diesel into the tanks on most days.

We also had problems with a “dirty tank”. I’m not blaming the fuel of India, but rather that the boat sat for a long time, and any diesel bugs present had an opportunity to grow. Polishing? Sure, I polished every month for two days, but the polishing pump is a low pressure pump, compared to the Volvo fuel pump. Therefore, when the seas get rough and there is sediment in the tank, it gets stirred up and clogs the lines, largely due to the stronger suction effort of the Volvo. Thankfully, our boat has two diesel tanks and its an easy matter to switch to the aft tank, if the forward tank gives trouble. A few days after arrival, we pumped out all the “bad fuel” into empty jerry cans, mucked out the tank with rags, and then poured the diesel back into the tank through a high quality filter. We replaced our spent diesel with locally purchased diesel, at the service station, for about $ 1.11USD per litre.

The jib Sunbrella UV strip has started to fall off (rotten threads) so we took that in to an upholstery guy (modest sailmaker) who gave it a repair (with our Sunbrella and our thread). Again, this is a result of high UV, high temperatures and high humidity of India. In retrospect, we should have taken down the jib and staysail, and we considered it at the time, but never sourced a good location to store them. At this moment, we’re still waiting for the sail to be returned – before we leave for Eritrea.

Getting Internet is a hassle here in Djibouti, you have to visit the national Telecom company – and the network is “so-so”. On the other hand, none of the malls or restaurants offered any wifi either, or at least none that we could find. We bought three SIM cards and the only real issue has been that we initially we couldn’t “hotspot” our iPhones, but another cruiser showed us how to change the ATN settings in our devices and then we were OK.

We had a replacement Raymarine ST60 wind instrument shipped in from Canada via DHL. The experience of extracting this package from Djibouti airport customs was entirely unpleasant, but at least I got the package 7 days after it was shipped from Canada. Sadly, it didn’t solve our problem. We will continue sailing without the utility of a wind direction or speed instrument.

It was nice to have a restaurant meal, and a good one at that. They even supplied knives and forks!

In one of French supermarkets (Giant), I found this package of camel meat. This is a first for me, I’ve never seen it in a grocery store.

We still plan to make a “tour” of Djibouti, get our sail, check out and leave the country – bound for Eritrea. Timing is “everything”, particularly with the wind.

Leaving India

21 January 2020 – Departing Kochi India for the Red Sea

We had Daneesh, the “pool boy / lifeguard” over for beer and nachos a few weeks ago. This was his third invitation to visit us. With each and every encounter with Daneesh and other Indians, we learn more and more about the culture in India. Daneesh works away from home (his parents home) but returns every Sunday for the day. He told us of a “cooperative / bank” in his parents neighbourhood. There is a “club” or “cooperative” consisting of approximately 12 families (not always related by blood), in the neighbourhood. Every week there is a meeting of the families and there are even positions of President, Secretary and Treasurer. They pay weekly dues. They borrow money from the group, and then return it over a period of months. In this way, the community knows very well what is going on in the other families and monies borrowed and returned are kept at a very close level, and at low cost. This is micro-financing at the grass-roots level, and it is common in rural India, not so much in the cities. I never knew this. 

We will be leaving tomorrow, early. The exact departure date and hour have been influenced by many factors, including tides. The tides here are only in the range .8m to 1.2m, but a fuller moon can give us more water to transit and the first mile is very shallow. For safety reasons we don’t want to leave in darkness due to the proliferation of fishermen, nets and garbage in the water. Customs will allow us to check out and leave two days later, but Immigration insists that we leave immediately after checking out. We HAVE to leave on a high “rising tide” because the water near the marina is very shallow, and we have seen several others get stuck. At least if we touch bottom, as a little more water comes in, it won’t get worse and we might be able to back out. Admittedly, our departure date has ended up being several weeks later than I had originally planned due to many variables that I had little influence over. This can be viewed as a good thing since during the last 12 month period, 3 yachts have been lost on reefs in the Sudan/Egypt area. There are countless uncharted reefs along this coastline, and with the strong Northerly winds and sandstorms that frequently happen early in the season, one passage strategy (a poor one it seems) is to hug the coast and seek wave protection from the reefs while moving North. We realize now that leaving India a few weeks later reduces the possibility of extreme opposing weather later on in that area for us. 

Another unexpected wrinkle has been the setup and commissioning of our IridiumGo! (satellite communication gear). For the past 11 years, we have successfully used our HF/SSB ICOM ICM802 radio with a Pactor modem to connect via WINLINK. This has been useful to send and receive email and to fetch weather grib files. However, in this area of the world, the distance to shore-side stations is much larger than before. We have to either reach back to Australia or forward to mainland Europe. The popular alternative is to use satcom, at least in this region. We have a new IridiumGo!, and it has never been setup, much less operationally tested. Much to my disappointment, the manufacturer has produced new firmware and new apps for the iPhone and iPad – in the first few days of January, ie just before our departure. The email app is still not working on iOS devices but is OK for Android devices. This has necessitated a lot of discrete testing, unfortunately none of which can be done dockside in India because this equipment is banned, because it is feared that it may be used by terrorists. Its a sensitive topic, and one that I did not want to mention while still physically in India. 

All preparations are now complete. Our crew-members Mariona and Gabriele have returned. The boat is completely provisioned and the tanks are full. We normally carry about 900 litres of diesel, but for this trip, we are carrying an extra 300 litres in 15 jerry cans on deck – just in case. Last year, at least one sailboat ran out of fuel in the High Risk Area (HRA) and we don’t to be in the same predicament. 

Our planned legs are:

Kochi to Djibouti 2000nm (we may stop there, if required)

Djibouti to Suakin Sudan 610nm (we plan to stop at Suakin)

Suakin to Port Ghalib Egypt 620nm (we plan to stop at Port Ghalib, first Egyptian port)

Port Ghalib Egypt to Port Suez Egypt 110nm (entrance to the Suez Canal)

Port Suez through the Canal to North Cyprus 440nm

Total 3780nm  (multiply by 1.852 to get km, or just 2X for an approximation)  

For comparison purposes, by air travel – it is 4430 km from Halifax Nova Scotia (East Coast Canada) to Vancouver British Columbia (West Coast Canada) and about 6000 km by road. This trip to Cyprus is longer than the span of Canada by road!

We have very much enjoyed our 10 month stay in India, and are sad to leave behind our friends in Kochi, but the time has come. We must move forward, meet new challenges and see new places. 

I will try to post updates and blog entries as we move along, but I can’t be sure of what Internet connections we’ll find along the way. We plan to arrive at Karpaz Gate Marina in North Cyprus, sometime in early April. 

If anyone wants to track our progress, our current position for this journey can be found at this link: Tracking Link for Iridium Go:

2019 Year End in India

30 December 2019 – Year End in Cochin Kerala India

Its almost the end of the year. As I’ve done many times before, I’m posting a year end snap shot of our travels. In 2019, we broke free from South East Asia, sailing from Thailand to Sumatra to India, a total of about 1800nm. 

As planned over 6 months ago, we were invited to Varghese’s home for Christmas dinner. With fellow cruisers Marcel and Joana (and their dog Nikko), we were treated to a festive Indian Christmas dinner featuring many dishes and treats we’ve not had before. Marcel and Joana brought the wine, and Diane brought the turkey. We ordered this 4kg turkey from FarMeats a few weeks ago. We figure that every year since we left Canada we have always cooked a Christmas turkey, this year – on our wonderful Weber BBQ. 

This is what the turkey looked like before cooking. All dressed up and ready to cook.

These are some photos of our time at Varghese’s home.

As we are preparing for our next journey, getting the mast and rig inspected is all part of the process. Here in Cochin, there is no sailmaker or rigger, but Nazar’s son Nizar is happy to go up the mast, have a look at the rigging and take photos – and that satisfied me. Here is a photo from the top of the mast looking down. You can see our 10 solar panels giving 1360W, as well as the grey Sunbrella shade covers that we had newly made in Thailand.

We continue to meet interesting people and chat with them. One day while waiting for the ferry, we chatted up these 4 girls (age 15-16). When we learned that they were headed to LuLu Mall for an outing, we gave them 500 rupees to buy their lunch at KFC. They were absolutely thrilled at our generosity, and were certainly not asking for money. They were all school friends and a mixture of Christian and Hindu. 

One day when going to Nazar’s home for lunch (we have been there many times), I had to ride “shotgun” sharing the driver’s seat with him. This is a good photo of us both, riding in his auto-rickshaw or tuk-tuk. 

Exciting things are going to be happening on Fort Kochi island soon. Thousands of people will flock there for New Year’s Eve to welcome the New Year by burning the massive statue of an old man named, Pappanji. Burning of this 35-foot huge Pappanji that stands tall amidst the crowd, just like a skyscraper symbolizes the welcoming of hope and harmony. A grand party is planned with music and dance till dawn.  It looks exciting, but we probably won’t go because of the crowds. 

There are other things happening, some during the day, and some at night. These elephants are getting geared up for decorating and a procession/parade on New Year’s Day.

The Cochin Carnival is a cultural reflection of the hybrid past of Fort Kochi. It has its origins rooted deep in the Portuguese and British rule. The Portuguese New Year celebrations during the colonial era gradually paved the way for the Cochin Carnival.

We came across this display of Indian wrestling at the beach. There was a large crowd watching and competitors from many weight classes were ready to wrestle.

Our crew (Mariona and Gabriele who sailed with us from Thailand) will be joining us again on 2 January, as we finalize our preparations for departure. We expect to depart 15 January 2020, or thereabouts – for the Red Sea.

Getting Closer to Departure

4 December 2019 – Getting Closer to Departure

One day when we were out and about with Nazar sourcing supplies and things, and we decided to follow a lead for a good hamburger. When we picked up our frozen meat at FarMeats last month, we asked them where we could buy a good hamburger. Neither McDonalds nor Burger King actually have hamburgers on their menu, probably due to sensitivities with Hindus. They sell chicken burgers and veggie burgers, but no beef burgers. FarMeats told us that they sell beef to The Burger Junction, so we kept that in the back of our mind. Well, we finally went there, and it was fantastic. It was real beef and very tasty. All three of us had cheeseburgers, fries and lemonade. It was, of course, the first time that Nazar had ever eaten a hamburger.

The last time we bought wine was in Langkawi Malaysia, duty-free Australian wine. Since our supplies were getting a bit low, we bought some Indian-made wine, comparable to a Pinot Gris. This wine was very good, certainly as good as many of the Australian or NZ wines we have had. It was 370 rupees, or about $7.20 CDN per 750ml bottle.

We were treated to a CO2 party on SV YARA with our friends Robert and Ursula. Like many cruisers we have met, they use SodaStream to make carbonated beverages. Like many cruisers with SodaStream, they have had difficulty getting their CO2 cylinders filled as they move from country to country. It is impossible in Muslim countries to find a SodaStream vendor because this is an Israeli company. Usually, if there is a Paint Ball venture in the area, its workable. Here in India, Robert and Ursula resorted to buying “dry ice” which is solid CO2. If you just let this stuff sit on the ground it will gradually turn into a gaseous form, bypassing the liquid phase altogether. If you toss a few cubes in the water, they will bubble and make fog. Robert and Ursula own 18 SodaStream CO2 cylinders, and needed to refill 15 of them. So, they bought approximately 10 kg of dry ice from a local supplier (this stuff is used by the medical industry for the transport of organs) and basically just chipped it up, and dropped little shavings into the cylinders (with the valves removed). Each cylinder was weighed so that it contained nearly 400g, then the valves were quickly screwed on. A few years ago, after following this procedure but not quite as accurately, one cylinder exploded about 12 hours later because it was filled with more than 400g of CO2. For any cruisers that have SodaStream equipment, this is a sure-fire way of getting the cylinders filled.

Here is Robert chipping away at the dry ice. Later, both Diane and I took over this role because Robert was occupied with filling and weighing.

Now, Robert is filling the cylinder with small CO2 shavings, maximum 400g.

The last stage is to weigh the cylinders, with a good digital scale.

Recognizing that we didn’t have the right courtesy flags for our journey West, we had some custom made here in Kochi. Although it was easy to find SE Asian courtesy flags in Thailand and Malaysia, finding them for Djibouti, Eritrea, Sudan, Egypt, Cyprus, Turkey, Greece and Israel (in advance) was another issue. So, we had some custom made on silk.

We had the local SCUBA diver down to give the hull a scrub. The water here is incredibly silty and dirty with floating debris and garbage. Its bad, so bad that I don’t want to go in the water, if I can pay somebody else to do it. We will get it done again, just a few days before we leave.

Our fuel tanks are topped up with 900L of diesel, but in consideration of our upcoming Westward passage through the Red Sea, we decided that we wanted to carry “extra” diesel on deck in jerry cans, just in case. After much deliberation, we bought 15 23L jerry cans (for about $4 CDN each), that are now filled to 20L each – giving us an additional 300L on deck. We don’t intend to “cruise” with these additional cans, just tie them on deck and give them away (empty) when we get to Cyprus.

The weather has cleared up a lot, and it only rains occasionally at night. The daytime temperatures are about 30-32C and at night-time it is usually about 26C, although the humidity is still high. Our second A/C unit (bought in Malaysia two years ago) finally died and we won’t bother fixing it. The big portable A/C we bought in India is doing the job, cooling and dehumidifying the whole boat. Our aft cabin is a little warmer than we’d like, but we’re OK.

Boat Work (Cowls/Windlass)

15 November 2019 – Boat Work (Cowls and Windlass)

As we prepare for our upcoming passage West through the Red Sea, there is, as always, a long list of things to do, some maintenance and some upgrades.

Our 6 Perko dorade box vents were looking somewhat tarnished, after years of polishing. The metal is chrome plated bronze, and painted white inside. If you can find them, these cowl vents retail for about $ 450 CDN, so having them re-chromed while in India looked like an attractive alternative. On Google, I found a shop nearby, so I went out to check them out. Prasis Electro-plating offered to re-chrome these cowls at 800 rupees apiece. That works out to less than $ 16 CDN per cowl. So, I left them with the shop when Diane and I went on our Northern India tour. When we came back, I picked them up and am very pleased with the result. They had to remove and re-replate the existing chrome plating, and I had to repaint the inside with white spray paint, easy enough.

Next on the list was to convert our existing IDEAL anchor windlass (circa 1995) from foot button operation – to include a wireless remote. Why bother, at this stage? Because we are headed to the Mediterranean Sea, where it is common practice in Greece, Turkey and other countries to drop anchor and reverse back to a wharf or town concrete pier. With just Diane and I on the boat, having a wireless remote means that I can drop the anchor from the bow, and then walk back to the stern while continuing to release chain and our stern approaches the wharf. Then, I can handle the stern lines and then reverse the windlass operation and tighten up on the chain. In theory it all sounds easy. Our windlass is an IDEAL 12V V4C, reversing model. It has worked fine for years. This was the existing wiring diagram, for the windlass as it was installed by me years ago.

My first solution was to try a “made in China” solution with a remote key fob and transceiver commonly used for 4X4 winches. This only cost me $ 50 CDN. I didn’t even need the new solenoid because I was planning to use the existing solenoid.

After installation, I found that the transceiver didn’t put out enough current to activate the existing solenoid in either forward or reverse. The key fob and transceiver worked well and were easy to install, but it just didn’t trigger the solenoid. Then, I tried to wire in the additional solenoid “in parallel” with the existing solenoid and that sort of worked, but tripped the safety breaker and it interfered with the deck switch operation. I abandoned this solution because although it was cheap, it didn’t work – or at least not like I wanted it to.

For the second and final attempt, I decided to buy the IDEAL factory remote kit, IDEAL HHWR-100 – sold by Schaefer Marine (which purchased IDEAL a few years ago). I decide to buy the kit for $ 305 USD and a replacement circuit breaker panel for another $ 164 USD. By the time you add in UPS shipping and 48% Indian Duty charges – this factory solution ended up costing me $ 901 USD, or about $ 1200 CDN — so you can see my interest in getting solution 1 up and running!

This is the wiring diagram for the new remote, as provided by IDEAL and fitted together with the existing solenoid and foot switches.

This is the new circuit breaker panel, as I installed with a little amber coloured LED to indicate when its on. This is a big improvement over the last breaker panel that had an incandescent red light and a big clunky switch.

In theory, the remote kit looks like this, but the wires were not nearly this long, only protruding out of the box an inch or so. The antenna is inside the box, together with some other electronics.

After splicing on extensions to the 4 wires, I actually installed the box inside the boat, right next to the bow battery and the existing solenoid – so its in a cramped, but workable, dry space. I removed the water-tight door, and threw it away. After installation, I couldn’t open it anyway.

Inside the door, the box had a nice sticker for GEM Remotes in Naples FL, who apparently make this remote for IDEAL. It was also labelled GRDI-2-12VC IWC 1218B, further identifying the model.

After installation, I tested the remote operation by walking around to different areas on the boat and it works like a charm. I was afraid that since its a steel boat, the radio transmission might be impaired, but this was not the case. I checked the output of the transceiver (to trigger the solenoid) and it was about 0.7A, much higher than the Chinese model I first tried. I also verified that our existing deck switches still work fine – so the overall project is considered a success – and ready for operation.

Northern India Tour

24 October 2019 – Northern India Tour

As planned, we departed the lush, green, humid environment of Kochi in the state of Kerala for a ten day tour of North India on 15 October. We booked this travel through Santa Monica Holidays, a short walk from the ferry across to Ernakulum. We paid 169,000 Indian Rupees, or $ 3,150 CDN for this 10 day trip. The destinations to be covered were the well travelled Golden Triangle route: Delhi, Agra, Jaipur, Jodhpur and Udaipur.

On the first day, we were met by our private car, driver and tour guide (Rishabh) at New Delhi Airport. In the afternoon, we visited Rashtrapati Bhavan (the official home of the President of India), Parliament House & India Gate and then overnighted at the Hotel Rockland CR Park. India has a Prime Minister, currently Modi, who is the leader of the majority party. India also has a President, who is elected by the members of Parliament. The President doesn’t have to be from the same ruling party, but often is. This is the President’s Palace. In terms of surface area, it is the largest offered to a head of state anywhere in the world. On site are the Mughal Gardens, which are unfortunately only open to the public in February every year.

We also stopped by several of the Ministries, including this one, the Ministry of Defence. 

I couldn’t help but notice this brightly coloured auto-rickshaw, or tuk-tuk parked at the curb. Our guide told us that many of the elected members of parliament shuttle back and forth using these government tuk-tuks. This one is powered by CNG, like most tuk-tuks in Delhi. Since the pollution is so bad, all petrol and diesel tuk-tuks are banned in Delhi. 

Our initial impressions of Delhi are quite favourable. Single use plastics are banned. There are plenty of garbage or rubbish cans to be seen, and although it is a very crowded city with a population of 22 million, it looks very clean and tidy, particularly in comparison with Kochi.

On day two, at 0530, Diane wanted to get up, have a shower and wash her hair. There was no hot water. I said “be patient”. At 0600, I tested the system myself, to ensure she hadn’t overlooked a switch to turn on the heater or something. There was clearly no hot water. I called the Reception and asked WTF? They quickly apologized for the lack of hot water and said “the” boiler hadn’t been turned on yet. Its a cost savings measure you see. So, they said “we’ll turn it on, and you’ll have hot water in 10 minutes”. Diane had a shower at 0630 in mildly warm water. I had a shower at 0700, with hot water. Given that the hotel breakfast starts at 0700, I suppose that’s the time to look for hot water, at least in the Hotel Rockland CR Park Delhi. 

After the hotel breakfast, we had a full day of Delhi “private guide” sightseeing starting with  Qutub Minar, an excellent example of Muslim Afghan Architecture. The Minar is a 72.5m high victory tower, the construction of which began in the final year of the twelfth century by Qutubuddin Aibak and was later completed by his successor. It has been given World Heritage Site status and is renowned as the tallest and oldest minaret in the world. 

This Hindu red sandstone carving (made centuries before the Muslims made Qutub Minor) is an example of hundreds – and has stood the test of time extremely well. 

We next stopped at Bahai Temple, situated atop the Kalkaji Hill – also known as “The Lotus Temple” due to its distinctive lotus shaped design in Marble. It was built in 1987 by the followers of Bahai faith. The temple signifies the purity and equality of all religions.  We found it quite sterile inside, devoid of any feeling of worship. The grounds and the temple itself were free entrance and simply a wonder to behold. 

Our next stop was lunch, and much to our amazement, in a city of over 22 million people and thousands of tourists, the guy eating at the table next to us was at the same hotel, the same breakfast buffet 10 km away, 6 hours earlier! It was obviously a popular place to bring tourists. Of special interest to me though, was not the lunch, but the snake charmer and his handler hawking outside. This was a first for me, and I couldn’t resist taking a few photos. 

Diane didn’t seem to mind, and even stroked this cobra’s back.

Later in the afternoon, we spent a very worthwhile 5.5 hours at the Akshardham Temple. It is a very modern Hindu house of worship, and a spiritual and cultural campus dedicated to devotion, learning and harmony. This was our first view, and only photographic possibility since all cameras, cell phones etc have been banned inside the structure – for security reasons. 

Timeless Hindu spiritual messages, vibrant devotional traditions and ancient architecture are echoed in its art and architecture. The mandir is a humble tribute to Bhagwan Swaminarayan (1781- 1830) with avatars, devas and great sages of Hinduism. The traditionally-styled complex was inaugurated on 6 November 2005 with the blessings of HH Pramukh Swami Maharaj and through the devoted efforts of thousands of skilled artisans and volunteers. These photos are courtesy of Google Images, but are definitely indicative of what we saw. 

The sound, water and light show in the early evening was simply spectacular, a showcase for modern Indian technology and special effects. 

On day three, our driver took us to Agra (250km/3hrs 30mins) on the best highway we have seen in India. Imagine – a speed limit of 100km/hr!  We spent the early part of the afternoon visiting Agra Fort with our tour guide Iqbal exploring this unique Indo – Islamic architecture. 

The Taj Mahal calls to us in the distance.

Then, we proceeded to visit Taj Mahal, the extravagant white mausoleum built by Emperor Shah Jahan, in the memory of his third an favourite wife, Mumtaz Mahal. The Taj Mahal complex is believed to have been completed in its entirety in 1653 at a cost estimated at the time to be around 32 million rupees, which in 2015 would be approximately 52.8 billion rupees (U.S. $827 million). The construction project employed some 20,000 artisans under the guidance of a board of architects led by the court architect. This is a mausoleum, not a palace. Nobody every lived at Taj Mahal. Photography inside was prohibited. We overnighted at the Hotel Crystal Sarovar Premiere Agra, a really nice 5 star hotel.

On day four, we drove to Jaipur (240km/4hrs), visiting the town of Fatehpur Sikri along the way.  Fatehpur Sikri served as the capital of the Mughal Empire from 1571 to 1585 and contained both a walled city and imperial palace. The city came to be known as 

Fatehpur Sikri, the “City of Victory”, after Akbar’s victorious Gujarat campaign in 1573. 

Jaipur is the present day capital of India’s Rajasthan state. The Old City is called the “Pink City” for its trademark building colour.  We stayed overnight stay at Hotel Marigold and toured the next day with our guide Ramesh.  

Driving into the city, we passed a heavily congested area where  hundreds of “day workers”, appearing to be mostly men, congregate. These men are contracted out by the day to do all kinds of work. They work for 500 rupees ($10 CDN) per day, and are paid on a daily basis. This, we came to realize, is a common theme throughout Northern India. This van was full of day workers heading out for their work.

Our first stop on day five was at the Palace Hawa Mahal, built in 1799 – the Palace of Winds. Made with the red and pink sandstone, the palace sits on the edge of the City Palace, and extends to the Zenana, or women’s chambers. Back in the day, Rajput royal ladies were not to be seen by strangers or appear in any public area. The construction of Hawa Mahal allowed the royal ladies to enjoy looking out to every day street scenes and royal processions on the street without being seen.

Then, we spent several hours at Amer Fort, which dates back to 967 CE. Many of the ancient structures of the medieval period have been either destroyed or replaced. However, the 16th-century Fort and the palace complex within it built by the Rajput Maharajas are very well preserved.

We enjoyed an Elephant Ride uphill to reach atop of the palace. Normally we wouldn’t bother with such a tourist activity, but it was part of the package and made the steep uphill climb quite tolerable. 

Inside, there is a lot to see, and you could probably spent a week here. 

We also saw the Hall of Victory or Jag Mandir, and in particular, the famed Sheesh Mahal – a room with all the four walls and ceiling completely embedded with glittering mirror pieces, which were specially imported from Belgium. 

Down the hill, we stopped at the road side to take a photo of the Lake Palace. This lake is currently only about 2 feet deep, but fills during the rainy season. 

Later, we continued with a tour of the Maharaja’s City Palace, part of it is now converted into a museum. We also visited the Jantar Mantar, the largest stone and marble crafted observatory in the world, having 17 large instruments; many of them are still in working condition. Here is a photo of a working sundial, crafted in marble.

This is the same model, but of a much larger scale to give a higher accuracy. It is reported to be the largest working sundial in the world. 

Many men in the state of Rajasthan wear a turban or Pagri, not to be confused with the Dastar worn by Sikh men. Some of the older, traditional looking men appear to wear their turban on a daily basis. Our guide doesn’t wear one, except for special occasions like weddings and cultural events. He showed us his wedding photos on his phone. He also told us he has two at home, one which is “pre-tied”, or ready to wear, and the other that has to be tied in place. That one is composed of a 9 metre long length of cloth, and about 1/3 of a metre in width. We also learned that many Hindu women in this area cover their face, but not for religious regions, as an ancient custom. They basically just pull part of their sari over their head. This is not our guide.

In the evening, we went to Chokhi Dhani for a cultural experience and true Rajasthani dinner (included in the tour).  We cheated though, and opted to pay more and sit at a table and chairs, rather than on the floor. 

Its now the end of day five, mid-way through our tour, and personally – I’m starting to feel the effects of: a busy itinerary, crowds (mostly Indian, not too many foreigners yet), aggressive street hawkers and an increasing number of beggars, that is the most worrisome. Oh well – soldier on!

On day six, we left Jaipur and drove to Jodhpur (via Ajmer Pushkar) (285km/4-5hrs).  There are more than 400 hundred temples in Pushkar with the main attraction being the temple of Lord Brahma, the only temple in India dedicated to Brahma – and the only “temple” we visited in Pushkar. It was crowded, and very underwhelming. 

Next, with our guide Vinod we visited Pushkar Lake or Pushkar Sarovar, a sacred lake of the Hindus. The Hindu scriptures describe it as “Tirtha-Raj” – the king of pilgrimage sites related to a water-body and related to the mythology of the creator-god Brahma, whose most prominent temple stands in Pushkar. Pushkar Lake finds mention on coins as early as the 4th century BC. To get to the lake, we had to walk down some small roads through a market area, and I was stunned to see cows just wandering around like “the Queen of Sheba”. They crap and piss everywhere and its a challenge not to step in it.

At the waters edge, you can see pilgrims bathing in the holy water of Pushkar Lake. To get down to the water, you have to remove your shoes. 

The cows also move their way down to the waters edge, to drink, and maybe bath. They don’t remove their “shoes”, and they continue to crap and piss whenever they need to. It seems quite unsanitary to me, but the Hindus insist its not unclean.

Lastly, we visited the Ajmer-e-Sharief Dargah Mosque, also in Pushkar. This place is regarded as one of the holiest places in Islam and one of the most sacred pilgrim sites by people of all religions. Sadly, we found it a bitter disappointment compared to other large and beautiful mosques, it was also over-run with tourists, pilgrims and gift shops. 

Finally we drove to Jodhpur, arriving at the Hotel Kothi Heritage at 8:15pm. It was a long, tiring day – and to finish it up with two hours of driving in the dark on poor roads with hundreds of unlit trucks and cows wandering all over – was simply dangerous. In future, we will just cut short any tours that threaten to postpone our arrival time after sunset.

Along the road, many times we noticed piles of cow dung patties: cow dung mixed with hay and dried in the sun. They are made mainly by women in rural areas and used to fuel fires primarily for cooking — and have long been available in India’s villages.

On day seven, we enjoyed the Jodhpur city tour with our guide Vinod. Established in 1459 by Rao Jodha, Jodhpur is the second largest city in Rajasthan and used to be a major stop on the silk route (camels caravans). Our first stop was Jaswant Thada, nicknamed the “Taj Mahal of Jodhpur”.  It was built by Maharaja Sardar Singh of Jodhpur State in 1899 in memory of his father, Maharaja Jaswant Singh II, and serves as the cremation ground for the royal family of Marwar.

The city landscape is dominated by the arresting Mehrangarh Fort, here seen in the distance from Jaswant Thada. 

Inside the fort, Diane poses with one of the security guards. He is wearing one of the large moustaches commonly found in the Rajasthan state. 

This is a photo from inside the Fort, looking down at the “Blue City”. Whereas Jaipur is known as the “pink city”, Jodhpur has become known as the “Blue City” because many of the houses are painted blue in the old area of the city.  It’s also said that as it’s called the “Sun City” because the weather remains bright and sunny all around the year, and to keep the houses cool, the colour blue is favoured on the houses

This is one of the rooms where the royal family held court.

Jodhpur is known for its stunning palaces, massive forts and beautiful temples. Its rich cultural heritage also reflects in handicrafts, folk dances, music and fairs and annual festivals. Finally, we went to Umaid Bhawan Palace, the last great palace to be built in India. Built between 1928 and 1943, the Palace is a magnificent piece of Rajasthan’s heritage, and a symbol of new Jodhpur. Home of the erstwhile Jodhpur royal family and currently the world’s sixth-largest private residence, the palace has one thing in common with the iconic Taj Mahal at Agra—the palm court marble used in its construction. Some years ago, the royal family split the Palace in three sections, one is a museum (which we visited), the second a Taj Hotel, and the third remaining section for their home. Hollywood and Bollywood celebrities Nick Jonas and Priyanka Chopra had their three-day wedding festivities at Jodhpur’s Royal Umaid Bhawan Palace in December 2018. They exchanged wedding vows as per both Christian and Hindu rituals in two separate ceremonies. If you want to stay in the hotel, rooms start at about $11,000 CDN per night. 

On day eight, we left Jodhpur and drove to Udaipur (total 350km/7hrs)by way of Ranakpur (100KM/2hrs by drive from our hotel). Along the way, we encountered many flocks of goats, and here is just one example.

We have been seeing camels alongside the road for days and I finally got a good photo of some. These are not tourist camels, but used by the locals for pulling carts and other work. The state of Rajasthan is quite dry and arid and a suitable environment for camels. We have seen camel leather products in the market as well. These were part of a herd of about 30 camels being moved along by the handler. 

We also passed through dozens of villages and of course hundreds of cows just wandering around. I’ve come to realize that most, if not all, of these cows are “owned” by individuals who “feed” and milk them – in the countryside, the villages and the cities. I have also learned that some municipalities have introduced laws to fine the owners when they don’t treat their cows well. Cows are supposed to be sacred in India. If you don’t permit your children to wander the streets or play on the highway, why do they permit the cows to? Apparently, if you hit a cow with your car, in addition to the damage to your car and risk to your life – you also face a 1,000 rupee fine. I think there is a way to keep cows sacred in India, but yet reduce the hazards to people as well. Make the owners responsible for the health and well being of their livestock. Here is a typical cow having breakfast at the edge of the road just outside of town, and I’m not kidding.

We also passed through dozens of villages where people had no water in their homes, but had to use the community water pump and carry water in jugs. It is unlikely that these people had toilets either since we also saw quite a few chemical or portable toilet cabins setup.

Our mid-day stop was both a rest stop (for another expensive tourist priced lunch) and an opportunity to visit the Ranakpur Temple, one of the largest and most important temples of Jain culture – built in the 15th century in impeccably white marble. 

As with all tourist attractions in Northern India, there is a sizeable disparity in the entrance fee for foreigners versus Indians. At Taj Mahal, for example, the entrance fee for foreigners was 1200 rupees, but only 40 rupees for locals, a factor of 30X more. Today, when entering the Ranakpur Jain Temple, we paid an entrance fee, a fee for an obligatory audio guide and also a fee to carry our mobile phones / cameras. However, at the point of entrance, it was pointed out to us that we had only paid 100 rupees ($2 CDN) each for a mobile phone, but Diane was carrying her iPad mini, and all “tablets” were assessed at 300 rupees ($6 CDN). This was “our tipping point”, especially when we see that there was one guy selling tickets and about six policing the entry point. Dozens of locals were entering alongside of us, and they paid a pittance to enter (which I have no problem with) and nothing for their electronic devices. After a minute of “discussing” this with the aggressive entry staff, we decided to abort our visit. We risked another late day of travel on rough and dangerous roads and there was potential for more night time driving so we just decided to give this temple “a miss”. It just wasn’t that important to us. We are beginning to show signs of “tourist fatigue”: too many crappy high-priced meals, and too many people wanting a tip for their services. On day one, we asked for the price of a glass of wine in the hotel restaurant and it was 600 rupees ($12 CDN) – double what we would pay at a Canadian restaurant. When we know that we can buy a pretty good bottle of Indian white wine in the local store for 800 rupees, we know that we’re being gouged. The end result is – no wine purchase. We stayed two nights at the Hotel Amantra Comfort – Udaipur.

On day nine, with our guide Bhopal, we enjoyed a city tour of Udaipur, known as the City of Lakes and the Venice of the East. First, we visited the City Palace Fateh Prakash. 

Inside the palace, we saw rooms with mirrored walls and ivory doors, stained glass windows, beautiful marble balconies and a peacock courtyard. 

From the top of the palace, we had a great view of the surrounding lake, which to my surprise was the cleanest fresh water we have come across in all of India so far. The white structure in the foreground is a hotel, part of the Taj chain.

This is the edge of the Lake Summer Palace, that we took a boat ride to get to. 

We had a quick look at the Jagdish Hindu Temple built by Maharana Jagat Singh and dedicated to Lord Vishnu & Gulab Bagh.

The thousands of intricate stone (granite) carvings were amazing to see up close. 

Inside the temple, there were about 20 Hindu people singing and chanting, part of a warm-up for the start of the Diwali festival. 

Then we had a quick visit to the Bhartiya Lok Kala Museum – a museum of folk and art that displays a rich collection of folk dresses, ornaments, puppets, masks and dolls. We learned that there are still wandering groups of Indians who specialize in various folk art and dance, and move around (mostly in the rural areas) from village to village throughout the year, following a nomadic way of life. 

Finally, we visited the lovely Sahelion-ki-Bari (Queen’s resort for their friends) gardens. These gardens are situated below the level of the lake, so the fountains are hydraulically powered by gravity – and have been doing so for 350 years. 

On day ten, 24 October, we made our way to the Udaipur Airport to catch our flight for our return to Kochi, via Bangalore. After ten days of touring, we are both quite tired and eager to return home to our own bed and way of life. For someone who wants to bypass the tour agency “middle-man”, you might consider contacting the young man who was our personal driver for the ten day tour,  Mr Sunil Yadav, mobile number +91 86906 96695 and email address We were very impressed with Sunil and next week, he will be acquiring his own new car that will be available for guided tours. His spoken and written English is very good, and he assures me that he is able to line up attractions and guides, as long as tourists take care of their own flights and hotel bookings.

Marina Life

5 October 2019 – Marina Life

Life goes on in the marina, same old, same old. We are still in a SW Monsoon, although it only seems to rain at night. Last night there was a thunder and lightening storm, but in the morning its sunny and everything warms up.

We had Nazar and his wife Zakeena, daughter-in-law Sourmi and 3 grand-children over for lunch. Zakeena told us that it has been 17 years since she has been to the marina to have lunch on a foreign boat. That is pretty sad, I think. Diane cooked them up some fish stew, curry flavoured, and it was a big hit. If she had made pizza or nachos, this would have been very foreign and likely not as well received. The kids had fun poking around the boat and seeing different things.

I continue to catch rats in my two rat traps. I don’t have the rat traps on the boat, per se, as there is a lot of dock space with only 4 boats in the marina. I figure I catch about 5 or 6 rats a week, sometimes 2 in one night. They are especially active when it rains at night. Several mornings I have been surprised to find a bat in the cage. Apparently, they like bananas too. Since bats eat mosquitoes, I just “catch and release” them.

More of Kerala Culture

15 September 2019 – More of Kerala Culture

We have been in India now for 6 months. In that time, we have seen poles like this adorning the grounds of Christian Churches and Hindu Temples, but never at a Muslim Mosque. I’ve never seen such a pole, in all the countries I have visited, other than in South India.

I’ve asked several people what this pole is, and have gotten various answers – so I decided to do my own research. It appears that in South India, where fatal lightening during the rainy season is common, long metallic poles have been erected, to provide a good ground. Traditionally, these poles used expensive metals such as traces of gold, silver, copper, bronze etc, as they were found to be more effective (better conductors). Later, to prevent the theft, either small temples were made near these poles, or these poles were made part of the temple. After many centuries, it became then an integral part of temple and Church architecture. Today, many Kerala Churches, try to replicate the original design by including the metallic post, with a cross on top. In the present day, this post is typically used by the Church or Temple staff as a flag pole. They will hoist a flag or pennant at the start of temple or church festival.

Last week, we were invited to the private home of our friend Varghese for an Onam lunch. Onam is an annual Harvest Festival, a big deal here in Kerala, a 4 day state holiday – on par with Christmas back in Canada.

Though originally a Hindu festival, non-Hindu communities of Kerala participate in Onam celebrations considering it as a cultural festival. The meal, of course, was entirely vegetarian and home-made. It was delicious and had many different tastes.

Here, Varghese’s two sons pose with the family Royal Enfield 350 Bullet, fully restored. I love the classic look and feel of this bike.

Yesterday, we drove to Thrissur to witness the Pulikali (Tiger Dance), one of the ancient folk art forms of Kerala. On the fourth day of the Onam festival, artists paint their bodies like tigers with stripes of yellow, red and black and dance to the rhythm of traditional percussion instruments such as thakil, udukku and chenda. The Swaraj Grounds in downtown Thrissur plays host to this carnival that has people appearing in various unique hues and masks, with the locals and visitors alike joining in on the revelry.

As we were walking through the city (after parking the car), of course we stumbled upon the usual cows laying down in the street. Nobody owns these cows, they just roam around wherever they want. These ones, of course, are sitting in the shade on the road.

Then, of course, we made our way through the crowds to the city centre, encountering literally hundreds of people who want to say hello and take a selfie with us. Now, I’ve started the policy that if they want a selfie with us, then I want one with them!

There was kind of a drunken ambience with the crowds, although I saw no vendors selling liquor, nor anyone that seemed to be drinking alcohol or using drugs of any kind.
While waiting for the parade to start, we spent several hours “people watching” – just watching average people walk by.

“The streets of Thrissur swelled with people from across the State and the world to view this special event.” That description from a review sounds exciting, but there are a few facts missing. For example, I read in the news that there were more than 1,000 police officers on hand for traffic and crowd control. Yes indeed, I did see a lot of police officers but I thought they were largely ineffective. This is what we came for, what we expected to see, based on Internet reviews.

Together with Peter and Donna (from SV Kokomo), we sat on a steel water pipe from 2:20pm to 6:45pm waiting for the procession to pass by – and still there was no sign of the parade. We had initially been promised that the parade would pass by at 4pm, and that was changed to 5pm. I think if we had stayed, sitting on that pipe, it might have been 11pm by the time the parade passed.

The crowds were massive, in my estimation at least 100,000. The crowds were mostly well behaved but when you got near the dancers, there was a fair amount of pushing and shoving going on. It was dark and very, very crowded. I also read that there were more than 300 people (men and women) dressed up as tigers, but in reality, we probably only saw about 50. This is the first float we saw, and we were very close to it.

It was being reversed, yes, driven backwards down the parade route.

Although there were good viewing opportunities from the road side, side walk or neighbouring grounds, in my opinion the police made no attempt to clear the actual road way. The road was so congested with viewers, the crowds, that the floats and parade had great difficulty making any headway. It was dangerous, something that is not seen in any parade that I’ve seen in a Western country.

This is the second float we encountered.

After this float, a crowd of people followed that were holding a rope and pushing the crowds back, as the “Tigers” came into view.

Finally, we saw some “Tigers”.

14 the tigers.jpg

This YouTube video, although not in English, does provide a visual explanation of the effort that these artist undertook to get into costume.

In retrospect, I’m glad to have had the experience, but it was quite unsafe and overall left me with an unpleasant feeling. There were just too many people, and too much trash – and the crowds made it a risky venue. I would have much preferred to watch this event from the safety and comfort of my home, on the Internet. I have to recall that this tour was indeed my idea. Oh well, this is India.

New LiFePO4 Battery Bank

1 September 2019 – New LiFePO4 Battery Bank

Nearly 8 years ago, while we were in the Eastern Caribbean, we became “early adopters” of an expensive and promising new battery technology. We switched our house bank from lead acid (initially wet cell then AGM) to Lithium Iron Phosphate (LiFePO4) technology. Starting batteries for the engine and generator remained as sealed lead acid batteries, primarily because they were charged with internally regulated alternators. That switch prompted the requirement for a new purpose built battery charger as well as some minor adjustments to our existing charging systems.

At the time, many people scoffed at us, saying that we were paying “big bucks” for unproven technology. The manufacturer, Lithionics in Florida, guaranteed a 5 year lifespan, which approximated to 2,000 cycles. There is still dispute amongst users as to what constitutes a “cycle”, but I estimate that we have had more like 3,000 cycles in the 8 years that we have been operating these batteries.

We are changing the batteries now, and the primary reason is that they have lost approximately 50% of their capacity. Why? Well, to start with, recall the phrase “early adopters”. Now, 8 years later, there are thousands of other users out there, consequently there is a lot more experience and understanding of how these batteries operate, what is good and what is bad for them.

For example, it is bad to charge a LiFePO4 battery to 100% and let it sit there for weeks at a time. It is better to charge it to 60% and then take it offline. It will easily hold the charge for a year or more. Once full, it is bad to float, or trickle charge Li batteries. Similarly, on a day to day basis, it is better to operate in the 20-80% range than it is to operate in the 60-100% range. It is said to be bad to fully charge the battery to 100% every day. This information was not known 8 years ago simply because there weren’t enough users out there.

All that being said, we realized about 10 months ago that our battery bank was dying. We were about to leave Thailand heading East to India, and although it would have been cost-effective to change it out in either Thailand or Malaysia, it would have also taken time (months) and we didn’t want to postpone our trip to India for a year. The components are rarely found on the shelf, and have to be ordered in primarily from China with lengthy and complicated shipping arrangements. So, we proceeded to India with the expectation that we could replace the batteries here, during our 10 month hiatus. A few weeks after arriving, we learned that importing parts from the USA is probably the most expensive approach, with the high cost of shipping and particularly high tariffs on goods made in the USA. To be frank, ALL of the manufacturers (namely North America, Europe and Australia) rely on Chinese built LiFePO4 modules, similar to the one pictured below.

Although our first LiFePO4 batteries were “made” in the USA, they used modules made-in-China, and still do.

I also investigated bringing in material from China (modules, Battery Management System (BMS), connectors etc), but I found that battery modules would have cost about $2,000 USD, with another $2,000 USD in shipping costs and more than another $2,000 USD in duty. That would have been an investment of $6,000 USD (approximately nearly $8,000 CDN) to make my own “bare-bones” 400A bank (same size as what I currently have). I found the Trojan battery dealer in India and considered buying the new drop-in Trojan Trillium batteries, but that was going to cost nearly $10,000 USD. Alternatively, I sought out and dealt with a reputable, experienced USA-Indian manufacturer, UltraLife (primarily a defence contractor), that worked with me to design and build a custom 400A battery for about $4,400 CDN (approximately $3,300 USD). UltraLife took the specifications that I provided (dimensions, capacity, maximum current draw, maximum charging current) and designed/built a professional solution to meet our requirements.

Last week we drove to Bangalore to meet with the UltraLife people and in particular the Sales Team headed by Jaideep Nandy. They provided us with a briefing to show how the battery was built, how we should operate it and what to expect. This is what the battery, and charger looked like on their test bench.

They cranked up the charging to about 55A and I had a good look at the inside. These are interior photos of the UltraLife battery showing the quality of workmanship.

When we brought the battery to the boat, it was fairly heavy at about 80kg, but it makes a very nice, neat package, ready for installation. The box is made of galvanized steel, with powder coated paint.

These are final, in position photos showing the installation. The battery is a good fit, and there is cramped but sufficient room for the two busbars and 3 current shunts (Magnum, Victron and Balmar) used for the metering systems.

Several months ago, when I was setting up this purchase, I requested a Victron BMV-712 Smart-Bluetooth Meter. This Victron meter is very popular and has been in the market for several years. A few weeks later, I learned that there is an even better meter on the market, the Balmar SG200. This is a very smart self-learning monitor that is said to give a State of Charge (SOC) reading that is accurate to within 97% after only two cycles. SOC is an important parameter to monitor, and one that has proven difficult for the industry to pin down. Most meters “slip” over time, and may give an SOC of 95%, when it could be only 50%. It depends on how long it has been since the battery has had a full, dock-side charge. This is apparently not the case with the Balmar meter, it self-learns with only partial charging, so I had to get one. My strategy will be to monitor current in/out using the Victron display, and at a glance see the SOC on the Balmar display. After using both meters for a few days, I much prefer the Balmar model. The Victron is quite hard to read, with or without the backlight. For this kind of money, they should have put a little more effort into human factors design. The Balmar, on the other hand is top notch.

Not related to the batteries, two months ago we had all our interior upholstery in the settee replaced. The material is excellent, much better than we had before. The workmanship first-rate, at a discounted Indian price.